North Liberty, Coralville food pantries receive grant to help people get access to local produce

JOHNSON COUNTY, Iowa (KCRG) - Staff at some Johnson County food pantries want to increase access for local produce, and new funding should help them achieve that goal.

MidWestOne Bank presented a check to the Coralville and North Liberty food pantries at Sundog Farm in Solon, IA on September 24, 2019. The grant for $50,000 will allow organizers to start a program called Veggie RX. (Aaron Scheinblum/KCRG)

Through a $50,000 grant, food pantries in North Liberty and Coralville say they will be able to offer more and help people live healthier lifestyles.

"For many area food pantries, access to local produce can be difficult to find, but through a brand new grant from MidWestOne Bank, the two pantries will receive help from area farmers and build a plan to provide access for years to come.

"This is something we've been wanting to do for a while," John Boller, the Executive Director for the Coralville Community Food Pantry, said.

For Boller and Kalia Rome, the Executive Director for the North Liberty Community Food Pantry, they have a shared dream: to provide local and fresh vegetables to people of lower income or that have other food insecurities.

"We've been working really hard to get fresh, locally grown produce into the food pantries so that our neighbors who are limited in resources can have access to the very best," Boller said.

That idea grew into something much bigger: it's called Veggie RX. The goal is to help people get fresh produce and show how access to these foods improve their health.

Boller had an idea for a similar program last year but said he was unable to secure funding. So when the possibility for a grant came along, he jumped at the opportunity.

"Similar to the way someone would write a prescription for medication, we thought that food could also be medicine," Rome said. "And we wanted to give people all the tools and have a way to follow-up with people to see if healthy food and healthy eating actually was impacting their health in a positive way."

When Megan Lehman, the Assistant Retail Manager with MidwestOne Bank in Coralville, heard the idea, she suggested they apply for a grant to get the program off the ground.

"One of my passions is food insecurity," Lehman said. "John [Boller] had this fantastic idea for the veggie prescription program and we just ran with it."

Leading up to Tuesday, when leaders of the area food pantries were presented a check from the bank for $50,000. The Veggie RX program was awarded the grant over many other projects that covered all of Iowa and parts of Wisconsin.

"The idea that people were like this is real and we want to see it happen and we care about the community being healthier as a whole, it felt sort of like a dream come true," Rome said.

With the money, what started as a dream for some could soon become a reality.

"It's very satisfying to see something we put so much time and effort into come to fruition," Lehman said. "Especially because we know it's going to make such a positive impact on the community."

The new funding is a big step toward a big goal.

"Making a huge step towards a more sustainable, equitable food system in Johnson County," Boller said. "Where everyone gets an opportunity to have access to this beautiful abundance that's grown in our midst."